Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Music Video From Day #11

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day Nine - Part Two ("Road To Nowhere")

Day Nine (Road To Nowhere)

I'm doing it in reverse today. Sort of.

After the rough ride I experienced outside of Climax last week, I decided to take a different route on my way home. Shaving 20 minutes off of my drive, but much of that on gravel or dirt roads.

At least they are maintained roads.

For the part of my trip that goes past Robsart, I experience nothing new. I pass the ghost town, and then head towards Consul.

Another grain tower.

Arriving in Consul. The road splits to either Alberta, or to Montana. Neither are paved, and neither have much traffic, houses... or anything!

But there's plenty to see. There's nothing in the way.

I see a prairie dog.

Hey guy!

I'm nearing the US Border, and after my last go around with the border officials in Canada, I was a little more relaxed. I have nothing to hide. But still, I always end up feeling interrogated. It's their job, and I respect that. I just hope they respect me.

The temperature reads around -2 degrees as I pull up to the gate.

I am greeted by a serious-looking gentleman, with an important job to do.

"what were you in Canada for, sir"

I hand him my passport card, and the poster for the show I just played.


"More like a vacation."

"Any firearms?"

"No, sir."

"prescription drugs?"



"I left two cans of Guinness behind me that I brought in last week."


"any fruit?"

"Just a couple of snack packets"

"are you carrying any cash over $10,000.00?"


(I wish!)

"so what do you do for a living, Scott?"

"I'm a musician."

"mind if we search your bags?"

"Go right ahead."

The windows and lift gate have been open for awhile and it's freezing cold. I'm starting to get a little bored. It's around this time that I decide to earn a little official respect, as I recently took a part time job back in Hadley, Massachusetts, but usually don't bust this fact out on people... until now.

"I also work at the US Department Of Fish & Wildlife Services."


The man looking through my stuff immediately stops, and stands straight up. He's fairly impressed by this news.

"It's no big deal, I just move a few boxes and sweep up a bit around the offices."

(the questions stop - they are all done with me here)

"Good to see you sir. Have a good day."

Descending into Havre... I get some nice mountain shots.

"Mountains come out of the sky... and they stand there..."

Tomorrow: I will get back on the Empire Builder (in a light snowstorm, with wind chills of -35) and head back home to Massachusetts (via Chicago). I plan on upgrading to a sleeper car, and that will be the last part of my story. This has been an experience to remember for a lifetime! I have been welcomed back to Eastend anytime I want, and the Stegner House is mine to live in when that time comes.

That time will come soon enough.

Day Nine ("It's A Wrap")

"What The Heck Are You Thinking"?

It's coming full circle, now.

I asked myself that same question 6 months ago, when I bought my train tickets, and confirmed that I was indeed coming thousands of miles across America, into the most remote area of Southern Canada. Now it is for a different reason that I again ask that question of myself.

It's 4:00AM... and I am up and working!

I'm a musician, not a farmer!

I fell asleep around 10PM last night, so I got my minimum 6 hours sleep. Thoughts had been racing through my head all night about all the things I still need and want to do. I need to clean the house; I need to record some songs; I need to photograph "Scotty The Dinosaur"; I need to get posters from the show I played, and then I need to pack. That's just a sample of the activities I have to accomplish before I can relax, and do the rest of the things I feel are necessary in the final day at the Stegner House.

A few days ago - I went to The T-Rex Museum to see their exhibit on several dinosaurs (including "Scotty The T-Rex" - found right here in town, and the sole reason the state-of-the-art museum exists in a town of only 600 people). I was so busy preparing for the show, I forgot my camera, and I also forgot the extra money I needed to buy things at the gift shop there.

So I return for a few minutes.

Every kid loved dinosaurs at one time in their lives, and I was one of them. I used to draw them all of the time. Many of my friends have kids now, and they love dinosaurs too! It would be a shame if I did not take a bunch of pictures, and buy some gifts here and there.


I have brought a banjo with me out here to Eastend to record music I have written for the record for "Return To Big Rock Candy Mountain", and many of those songs I played at the concert for the first time. It would be a crime, if I did not record the folk song that got me going on the concept - the same song that inspired the book by Stegner. I got a crazy idea of using some of Stegner's voice off of the video tape here in the house. On it - he recites a spoken word verse of the song. It's supposed to be a happy song about a hobo, but when he delivers it... it sounds like a eulogy.

I think he got it right actually. I tape the song off of the television, and then transfer it to my lap top recording studio... and then play the music over it.


I started cleaning the house last night, so that part wont take long. Same with the the laundry. But then I am in the basement using the washer and dryer - I come across all kinds of things, and my imagination starts to run wild!

I get my camera, and take pictures of the reset of the house I have not photographed yet.


At the far end of the house, behind the kitchen, there is a tiny guest bedroom. I don't recall anybody in the book sleeping here, since Chet and Bruce (fictitious names for Wallace and his brother) shared the room upstairs that was my study for the week. But I take a quick shot of that as well.

See why I am up at 4AM?

It was 18 degrees below zero when I woke up. It is now around the balmy temperature of -2 degrees! The sun is shining, the wind is low... a good day to travel. I was thinking of staying overnight one last time, but I would have to leave around 8AM (just after dawn) and a snow squall is coming in overnight, so I decide to leave today.

I call Ethel on the phone, and tell her goodbye, and thank her for taking me out to dinner when i arrived last week. She sounds sad to not see me one last time, and I confess that i feel the same. I assure her I will be coming back soon with my wife, to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in less than 2 years.

I take out the garbage in the back yard, and I snap a picture of the water pump that has been restored. The car is packed, and idling, and I take a few pictures of the porch, and the front entrance. I make one last idiot check, and decide one more picture needs to be taken.

(sigh...) Check.

I slowly drive away, and say goodbye to Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Day Eight "Sunday"

I thought I would get a lot of stuff done on this day.

But it's Sunday... and everything is closed.

I took a quick drive around town, and took a couple of shots.

Then I went back inside, and covered the previous day's events.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Day Seven - House party

This is the concert/dinner/event that celebrates the 100th anniversary of Wallace Stegner's birth. When I negotiated coming out here in the near-dead of winter, it was only because that was when this event was taking place. Artists residency and performing the show made perfect sense. It gave me a special motivation, and was the prime catalyst for planning the journey.

I also thought that it would be a small group of people gathered in the house, and I would play in the living room.

Not in front of 300+ people!

The PA was supplied by a local band "The Ranchmen" (who practice in an adjoining rehearsal space). We hung out the afternoon before, and got to know each other - Darrell, Duane, James, & Boyd - and we jammed on some rock and some country flavored stuff. I got to play a Fender Stratocaster with them, and promptly ripped it up... Clapton style!

The name "Ranchmen" is aptly applicable - all of them work on farms except one (who works in an auto garage). Some bands might pose as rugged country types, but these guys walk the walk with their way of life!

Among the early crowd were Ethel and Ken, and I did a sound check about 4 hours before I was to go on. Afterwards, I went home and got changed. Later on, I came back and watched as the people started filing in.


I started to get a little nervous... I had a bunch of original songs scrawled on a paper, but I was not sure what order I was going to play anything. After a few Cokanie's (Glacier Lager) some salad, and lots of meat and potatoes, I got a coffee and some cheesecake. I met tons of people and I made them all sign a copy of one of Stegner's paperbacks ("Living and Writing In the West") Everybody was very nice, and I was the ONLY American in the house. Some people were familiar with where I was from, had been to Massachusetts. Some were even familiar with Northampton! Just as I was starting to relax... I heard a thick Norway/French Canadian accent on the
PA system announcing the event.

"Pleese Wilcomb Scowet Loweson Powemiroy!"

I brought my half finished coffee with me to the stage, and got down to business.


Little Live Thing
Elsa (Westbound Running Train)
Room To Roam
Closer To The Fire
Ring Of Fire (Johnny Cash)
I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash)
----short break----
Nothing Left To Talk ABout But The Weather
Black Sheep Son

And like a flash... it was over!

We got a few pictures, some video that is still being processed, and I taped the whole show direct off of the board (it came out a little too hot) and probably can salvage a few tunes for some streaming audio. It was well-received by the mixed-age (but mostly older) crowd. I had no idea what to expect.

Afterwards: When many had gone home and the tables and chair at the Eastend Memorial Hall were put away... music was still echoing thru the empty hall.

The remaining gang were buying me drinks of Rye, which I graciously accepted, but I was pretty wiped out by 11:30PM. I had to shut it down.

However, I have made so many new friends, and was reveling in being the "toast of the town", I am already contemplating making it back someday with my wife (when the weather is warmer).

They won't let me say no!

Day Six - Ghost Town

It's time for me to take advantage of this weather.

No, it's not warm out (it was when I first got here, but the last couple of days have been chilly and very windy) but the sun is shining bright, and the wind has calmed down.

It's still cold... but it's a dry cold.

I hop into my Vibe (mine for another week, at least) and drive out to take photographs of the next town to the West of Eastend. Robsart.

Recent census reports have put the population of Robsart at anywhere between 11 and 8. Locals think that is a stretch. They only know of one family that lives there, on a farm. (Livestock outnumbers people in this area, and possibly in all of the province.)

I start up the hill, and see the cliffs on either side of me. As I rise to the plateau, I can see the valley spread out before me, and the prairies that go on until the eye can no longer see.

Robsart is over 40 miles away, and I have 1/2 tank of gas. I should have no problem getting there and back (I end up only using less than a quarter tank round trip, and have 700 free miles for my rental). But, as I see desolate flatness, and near total lack of civilization, I start to worry a bit.

"What if the car breaks down, or I get a flat?"
"Will there be anyone who can help me out?"
"How many cars will pass by?"
"Will there be anyone at all?"

There is a little bit of traffic. Once every 5 minutes or so, a car or a truck passes. They often wave at you as they go by... which I found confusing the first time this happened (when I was in Wyoming in the early '90s) Instinctively, I stopped the car, got out and checked my tires... nothing wrong.

They were just being friendly.

What is this friendliness thing?

In New England, when someone waves at you from their car, it's usually not with the whole hand... it's just with on finger!

My fears are subsided when I see the sign for Robsart. I almost miss it, because you can barely notice there is a town at all. But I slow down, and I turn left to discover a cluster of old houses. Most of them look dilapidated, and some are boarded up. I notice some of the derelict abodes still have Christmas lights hanging outside.

"For how many years?" I wonder.

The outside temperature reads 2 degrees, but the sunlight is deceptive. It seems like it should be warmer, but it's not. I still inside my car to take my shots. I roll down the windows to get a clear image, and feel the cold on my face, and in my nostrils/lungs. I had thought to go inside a few of these places to get intimate photos of the ghost houses, but not in these conditions.

I do notice one car idling with an old man inside. "Somebody does live here" I thought. He doesn't look too friendly. he wonders what I am up to, I'll bet. many artists and passers-through take pictures of this area, so he probably does not have to wonder much.

I'm not a vandal... there's nothing to steal!

I keep driving slowly, and shoot more pictures.

Just as I reach a spot where I discover a yard full of old junk cars on my right... I am startled by a large black dog, that comes out of nowhere from my left. Behind this animal is a house that has 2 functional looking cars in the driveway.

"okay, there's one more confirmed resident, at least."

I stop the car, snap the dog's picture, and slowly back the car up... which now convinces the dog that he has the 'upper paw' on me, and keeps up it's dogged pursuit.

I take a few more pictures of an intersection to nowhere, and head back to Eastend. (seeing a herd of 50 deer in one field, and a white horse against the white landscape... which I would have missed, had it not been for the dark object behind it!)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Day Five - Whitemud

(View from the backyard of the Frenchman River)

I have been setting up shop, so to speak.

It was a good thing I took some more pictures around the house and in Eastend when I arrived, because the previous weather of near 40 degrees has been replaced by frigid temps and a howling wind that never stops. The Cypress Hills (Highest Elevation in Saskatchewan) are right outside my window. Tall pine trees surround the house, and are the only ones of their kind here in town. The sweet smell of pine nettles fill my sinuses every time I enter the house. Badlands surround the town, Coyote howl at night and deer scat is all around the backyard near the frozen Frenchman River - nicknamed "Whitemud" for the deposits of white clay around the valley.

(view from the window of the study - Stegner's Childhood Bedroom)

(view of Cypress Hills from backyard)

I had horrible nightmares sleeping in the house the first night. I don't know why. I don't believe in ghosts, but Wallace Stegner did say he would haunt the place, just to see what goes on. However, his father built the house, and he was a scary guy. He met his demise 2 decades later in Salt lake City - when he murdered his estranged lover, and turned the gun on himself in a hotel lobby. If he showed up last night... then he saw me sleeping in the bed he once shared with his wife!

I had a wonderful dinner at Jack's Cafe with Ethel and Ken Willis of the Eastend Arts Council. Ethel is a charming woman with a quiet voice and is full of conversation. The flat iron T-Bone sirloin that is in front of me is sizzling so loud, I can barely hear her talk for a bit. Ken is even quieter. He is a man of few words, but he is respected around town - A hard worker, and no-nonsense kind of guy. It is only when the subject of their children (grand and great-grand children) come up that he starts to really engage in conversation.

I go into the local bank to exchange my US currency to Canadian dollars. It's 20 cents to the dollar in our favor, and so I get nearly $75 in return. Hot dog! In fact, hot dogs is among the few choices you have out here... as long as it's meat, you are fine. Steak, steak and more steak. Oh yeah, and Bison Sausage. $75 gets you a lot of steak, eggs, bread, milk, OJ and whiskey (the latter I purchased in the back of a florist... they recognize me as I walk in... those posters are EVERYWHERE).

I settle back into the house, and I start getting ready to record, but the phone rings- it's the soundman for the show. Darrell has been wanting to meet me for some time, and I invite him over. Darrell plays in a country band called the Ranchmen. I used to play in a band called The Ranch, and so we have plenty to talk about. We are not so far apart, and when the conversation about Hockey comes up... he lights up. I used to live in Boston, and followed enough of the Bruins to know of Gordie Kluzak, and everybody out here knows Gordie.

Darrell and I head over to the Community Arts Center and see where I am playing on Saturday. he also loans me an acoustic guitar for the show. Their rehearsal space is in the room next door, and it has amps everywhere! I eventually return to the house, but now I am starving. I make one of my steaks and I attempt to do some recording, I only get a couple of songs done, and they are little more than sketchy demos. I am slowly resigning myself to the fact that I am doing so much writing, that all I will be able to do are demos, and they will likely be live ones... with little overdubbing. I look at the clock and it is 10PM. I give up on the recording, and resume writing. I have many friends to contact, and my wife especially misses me. She has been holding down the fort, and I am in constant contact with her, I have no Cel Phone and no TV reception, only a stack of VHS tapes. I pop one in that says "Wallace Stegner - House Copy".

It is his life documentary - made shortly after his death in the early '90s. Narrated by Robert Redford! I get to learn more and more about the man. Pictures of him are all over the house, and his spirit is forever embedded on the walls.